Like many other organisations, nonprofits collect vast amounts of data across their activities. But what to do with it all once you’ve collected it? How can you organise and interpret it in a way that lets you navigate what you’ve got, track your progress, and take meaningful decisions and actions?

Today we’ll be taking a closer look at the types of software you’ll need in order to make sense of your data, in particular looking at the importance of a good CRM, where its strengths are in this area, and how a Business Intelligence (BI) tool can supercharge your analytics even further.

Before we start -  On data quality

Any conversation about data analytics that doesn’t make mention of data quality is missing a crucial point. You can have the best setup in the world for analysing your data, but if the data being fed into it is incomplete, inconsistent or simply inaccurate, it will not end up producing useful results.

We’ve talked a little about data quality in the context of migration before, but it’s an essential component of any conversation on analytics. Before you start creating your reports and graphs there are 3 quick checks you can perform:

  1. Do you actually have the data points you want to report on?
  2. Is your data in consistent formats? Think dates or the spellings of countries.
  3. Is it accurate and up to date? Are there typos or are addresses or other information old?

While there’s certainly a lot more to say on this topic, today we’ll be looking at how to make use of high quality data. But don’t forget about these fundamentals!

Starting with your CRM

Your CRM should be your main database, gathering together information from many different streams. You should have contact information, payment information and other critical operational data stored within it.  In CRMs like CiviPlus, you even have native access to your email and event data, making it easy to combine information from even more streams with no extra effort.

When you combine this with powerful in built reporting, it makes it very simple to get started. You don’t need to cross-reference multiple spreadsheets with increasingly convoluted formulas to source your data. It’s just there, ready for you to apply filters and present according to your needs.

Example chart in CiviCRM

So What Can a CRM Do?

With the above said, what exactly can a CRM do for you when it comes to analytics? This essential software has many advantages such as:

Pre-made report templates

There are some reports that every organisation will want to run. Basic donation income reports, member sign ups, email opens reports, event registration reports. That’s why your CRM should provide you with basic templates - CiviPlus, for instance comes with over 100 pre-made report templates. Templates not only save you time, but they’re also great starting points to build out your own customised reports…

Fully customisable reports

Speaking of which, any good CRM will let you run reports on all of your data, and a very powerful one like CiviPlus will also let you include any custom fields you’ve created. And you can perform all sorts of operations when running them. For example, you can add and remove which fields you want to see, group by certain data types, use logic filters to narrow down what you’re interested in, and so much more! Never underestimate how powerful your CRM reporting tools can be.

Simple data visualisation

Sometimes a picture paints a thousand words. For some data, a report might be the best way to show off the story you’re trying to convey with it. Certainly, if you’re breaking down financial data, you don’t just need the headlines. At other times, a simple visualisation with the likes of a bar or pie chart chart will serve better to illustrate your point or inform about trends. And CRMs deliver here, making it easy to show off simple queries in a visual way.

Basic dashboards

You can take some of your favourite charts and reports and put them into a handy dashboard accessible to you and your other team members with ease in a CRM. This quite often takes the role of putting them onto your CRM homepage so that when you load in you can see all of the things most important to you at a glance.

Segmentation from reports

Segmenting your data is very important to the success of your email campaigns, fundraising campaigns, and different membership type cultivation. Creating set criteria and building dynamic groups that will self populate based on the outcomes of your reports can simplify future queries. Fortunately it’s as simple as the click of a button to create a smart group with your CRM!

Data exports

One thing that goes hand in hand with reporting functionality is the ability to export your data. There are many reasons you might want to do this, whether it’s to make it easier to share with relevant stakeholders or easier to manipulate in a freeform way.

Report scheduling

Your CRM should be able to schedule regular reports to automatically send out to you and your team! This can mean that essential weekly report you need to have to hand can be waiting in your inbox at a set time each week in a csv or pdf format depending on your preference. 

Enter BI tools like Superset!

Enter BI Tools

As is clear from the above, your CRM can serve a wide breadth of your analytics needs. And for smaller, or less complex organisations, i.e. those who don’t need very sophisticated data visualisations and manipulations, your CRM will be well equipped to serve all your data analysis needs out of the box. But what if you’re getting a bit larger or want to display data in ways your CRM can’t?

In that case, welcome to the world of Business Intelligence (BI)! Tools like Superset are your very own dedicated analytics suite, and the advanced solution to making your data more presentable and actionable. Some of the advantages of BI tools include:

Pull your data from different sources

This is something that BI excels at. Via integrations and SQL queries BI tools can pull data live from a large number of different sources. From your CRM, of course, but also from other software you might use in your marketing or operations. Even from your spreadsheets - though as CRM experts we would never encourage these! Even more of your data converged in one place means you can cross-reference it in interesting ways and truly take those strategic big picture decisions covering every data point your organisation may use.

Visual presentation

Since BI tools are dedicated to data, they are particularly adept at letting you display it how you want. Most CRMs will have a solid but limited range xof graphs or charts you can use to show off your data, but you probably won’t be able to customise them on such a granular level. Superset, for instance, starts with over 40 ways to visualise your data (and you can add more) plus the ability to upload your own CSS templates to truly match your brand’s look and feel.

Complex data queries

Sometimes you might want to do more sophisticated queries with your data that BI makes much simpler. Using formulas, you can quickly figure out things like durations or group specific fields together. You can even create categories to re-sort your data within the tool. 

You might want to put all of your donations for specific types of campaigns, or all your revenue for certain types of member services into broader categories for comparison. So say you're a broad humanitarian charity, you could group individual campaigns into broader categories like 'Education', 'Healthcare', or 'Community Support' within your BI tool. This makes it easier for you to display your data in the most helpful way possible.

Tracking complex KPIs in one place

Most organisations have key figures they need to know at a glance and you might even want to collect them all on a handy dashboard. If you want a simple output from a complex query then a BI tool can make this easy. And once you’ve got it configured, you can put it along with all your other important KPIs in a single place.

Easy to share

Sometimes there’s a graph, a dashboard or some KPIs that you really want to put in front of an important prospective major donor or present at a trustee or board meeting. With BI it’s simpler than ever to get it in the form you need. Download individual charts or dashboards as images, or share their URL. You can even download the data directly behind a visualisation in .csv form at the click of a button! 


So what’s the best way to make sense of your nonprofit data using analytics? Well, first of all check on your data quality! For many organisations, your CRM will be more than sufficient for your needs. But if you’re a larger organisation with many data streams or want easily shareable and dynamic visual representations of your data then a BI tool could be well worth a look.

So if you want to do some truly big picture strategic thinking, centralise all your data and run some more complex queries that you want to present in a more visually dynamic way, you’ll want a BI tool.

But where to get started? It’s actually much simpler and quicker than you might think! And with our expertise in open source, we can also help make it very affordable!

Get in touch with us today and one of our experts can help you create a plan to make the most of your nonprofit’s data!